Behind Bars: AZ Dept of Corrections' Troubling New Health-Care Provider

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The Arizona Department of Corrections has announced it will change the health-care provider for all state-run prisons as of March 4. AZDC has severed its contract with private medical company Wexford Health Sources Inc. and has already lined up a deal with a new medical company, Corizon, Inc. of Brentwood, Tenn.

The American Friends Service Committee's Cell-Out AZ blog examines the details:

Reportedly, the divorce was initiated by Wexford, which claims it’s “performance was hindered by state monitors and a lack of cooperation by corrections.” The company was also testy about the fact that ADC had threatened it with a $10,000 fine for failure to fix staffing problems, properly distribute medication, and communicate problems to the state. Not to mention the fact that one of their “nurses” managed to expose 103 inmates to Hepatitis C because she apparently didn’t know that you can’t stick a dirty needle back into a bottle of insulin you plan to give to other people.

Is Wexford at all apologetic for all this? Not in the slightest. And they don’t have to be. They know that there’s another state legislature somewhere that, like ours, is naïve enough to believe that privatization of prisons and prison medical care will save them money. Why put up with Arizona’s pesky monitors and pay fines when you screw up when you can go somewhere where everybody’s willing to look the other way for the promise of saving a few bucks?

After all, it’s not like ADC didn’t know Wexford’s dismal track record when they hired them. Bob Ortega reported in the Arizona Republic that:

Wexford opted not to renew a contract with Clark County, Wash., that expired at the beginning of 2010 after an independent audit concluded that “Wexford has systematically failed to comply” with its contract and had failed to provide adequate staffing, properly licensed staff, and adequate and timely medical service.

In Mississippi, a 2007 audit was harshly critical of both the company and state corrections officials for failing to provide timely, adequate medical care. It also found that Mississippi’s Department of Corrections failed to collect $931,310 in fines its chief medical officer recommended against Wexford after the company charged the state for more staff members than it actually provided.

Wexford has also faced fines for similar problems in numerous other states, including a $12,500 fine by New Mexico’s Department of Corrections in 2006; a $106,000 fine by Ohio’s Correction Department in 2009; $50,000 by Chesapeake, Va., in 2006 for staffing shortages; three fines totaling $273,000 by Florida’s Department of Corrections in 2005 for what it described as “service-delivery issues that were resolved” before the contract’s end; and a $68,000 fine by the Broward Sheriff’s Office in Florida in 2003 for delays in providing medical services.

And now ADC would have us believe that Corizon will do better. Did anybody bother to do the due diligence on these guys?

A little background: Corizon was created after the merger of two other huge for-profit prison health care corporations—PHS Corrections and Correctional Medical Services (CMS). Prior to the merger, PHS had 57 contracts in 150 jails across 19 states, serving about 165,000 prisoners. CMS served 250,000 in 19 states. When the two merged, Corizon became the largest prison health care provider in the country, operating in 400 correctional facilities in 31 states. Now, about 400,000 prisoners are subject to Corizon’s “care.”

Cell-Out AZ continues with a lengthy list of disturbing incidents behind bars.

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